Abstract: All my bra straps are too far apart, which causes discomfort in the armpit area. I altered the Panache Idina balconette to move the straps down and in, choosing this particular bra because its seams are horizontal rather than diagonal. This post includes step-by-step pictures of the process. Moving the straps didn’t change the support or the shape from the side, but it did create a pretty funny shape oddity when viewed from above.
I’m back after another months-long lack of blog posts! Like I said last year, I still have quite a few bra reviews to post, but I’ve been holding off for a while. The main reason behind that is a new fit issue that has affected all my bras for the worse, turning even my everyday reliable workhorses into extremely uncomfortable torture devices. Because of this, so I’ve changed my mind about pretty much every bra I’ve been wearing, leaving my half-written reviews in a state of limbo.
So what’s the fit issue that has me tugging and poking at my bra all day and eagerly ripping it off the second I get home? Wide-set straps. Most of us full-busted girls have struggled with straps that are too far apart at some point or other. “They’re sawing my arms off” is a common complaint on Bratabase, where I posted a little rant of my own on this topic last month.
For me, the main cause of the problem is that most bras give you space for breast tissue going right up to the point where the straps attach, but my low-set boobs stop before that point and are concave near my armpits. As a result, the cup gapes there and the excess fabric cuts into my skin, rubbing and chafing and making me generally unhappy. It happens with all kinds of bras and is particularly bad with diagonally-seamed bras like the Cleo Lucy and the Freya Gem, which tend to come up quite high on the chest near the armpits where they transition into the straps.
I’ve always had that little gap near the armpit area, but for some reason it’s never really bothered me until recently. It’s not a size issue, as my weight hasn’t changed and my bras are fine otherwise — no bands riding up, double-boob, floating gores, or anything like that. I think it might be related to skin sensitivity, the same thing that made me fall slightly out of love with the Freya Active Soft Cup last year.
One day, while I was sitting there, making annoyed faces, trying to pull my bra straps into a less painful position, and wondering if anyone would notice if I just took it off and walked around braless for the rest of the day, I decided I’d had enough. I looked at my bra collection and picked out the best candidate for some amateur bra surgery: the Idina balconette bra by Panache.
I’ve had this bra for quite some time now, and I actually really like it apart from the armpit gaping and chafing issue (I’ll get around to writing a proper review sooner or later). Unlike most balconettes, which have diagonal seams, the cups of the Idina have horizontal seams and side slings. This type of structure makes it slightly less offensive on the armpit front than bras like the Cleo Lucy, and it also makes the Idina a perfect candidate for the alteration I had in mind. The plan was to lower the strap attachment point and move it a bit closer to the center of the bra.
Here’s the process:
Draw the new cup shape. I wanted to turn this full cup into a half cup, like the kind of shape you see on strapless bras where the cup is a single, smooth curve up from the gore and down to the wings. I used a washable fabric marker for this step.
Detach the strap. Get in there with a seam ripper and unpick the stitches holding the metal ring in place. Once it’s out, you can see how the cup tapers into a triangle in the armpit area. That’s the part of the cup I want to remove.
Remove the metal ring from the strap. I was originally planning to keep the ring and make a little fabric loop to reattach it, but then I noticed how it had caused green discolorations on the fabric, so I decided to get rid of it and attach the strap straight onto the cup (details later). The stitching on this part of the bra is extremely strong and it took a lot of digging to undo it, in the process of which I accidentally poked a hole in my finger with the seam ripper. Slow and steady is the key here!
Unpick the elastic binding around the triangle. I stopped unpicking about ½” past the end of my marker line.
Stay-stitch the new cup edge. A quick and dirty hand baste along the marker line to stop the fabric from stretching or unravelling.
Cut off the excess fabric. I left a few millimeters’ worth of seam allowance.
Fold the elastic binding around the new cup edge and sew it on. The original stitching uses elastic thread, which I didn’t have any of. I just used regular thread. Pins are not helpful here, because it’s such a small area and it warps when you insert a pin.
I tried using a sewing machine for this, but the fabric kept getting caught and the threads got snagged and tangled up, so I switched to hand sewing with a zig-zag stitch. The two bits of binding aren’t the same width, so they don’t match up exactly at the point where they meet.
Sew the strap into its new position. As well as lowering the attachment point, I moved it inward by about ½”. I started with a hand baste, tried on the bra, then secured the strap with a zig-zag stitch on a sewing machine.
You could do this with hand stitching too. I just used the machine because it was faster.
Cover up the stitches. My sewing is always messy — I’ve only shown you pictures of the outside of the bra, the inside is a giant tangle of threads! I had a pair of ribbons lying around from an old Freya Faye that I took apart a long time ago, so I hand stitched them onto the straps to cover up all the disjointed bits.
Here’s a picture of the final altered bra. No more straps in the armpits! The whole thing took me about two hours. If you’re good at sewing (and if you aren’t stopping to take pictures), you could probably do it a lot faster.
After the alteration, the strap isn’t properly connected to the side sling anymore, so it’s lifting my boobs from the middle rather than from the root. This produces vertical strain lines in the cup fabric, which is to be expected because the bra wasn’t designed to have the straps attached this way. I haven’t noticed any difference in support post-alteration, and the shape from the side looks the same as before.
The only aesthetic difference is that new strap placement bifurcates my boobs longitudinally, so from my vantage point from above I have a little dent in each boob. You can’t see it from the front or the side. This probably wouldn’t happen in a padded bra; the Idina’s stretch lace is more susceptible to pulling forces from the straps.
I’m pretty happy with how this turned out (though I do wish I’d done a neater job!). Now the cups stop where my boobs stop, and the straps are no longer excessively wide-set. I think this alteration would work best on bras with horizontal and/or vertical seams. In diagonally-seamed bras, the straps are a continuation of the bottom half of the cup, so there aren’t any alternative positions to attach them.